20 Jun 2008

Corsica – L’ile de beauté

It really is a most beautiful island – and this post is more or less a travelogue with many photos….
What a great week it was – two bus loads of us left Bize on Saturday 7th, returning the following Saturday. I knew we were in for a bit of a singalong on the trip (!) when Elyette was thumbing through a book as thick as a phone book – it was a book of songs!
And so it started on the bus, when Fabian got out the squeeze-box……..

The cabins on board the ferry were surprisingly good – and smooth sailing all the way.
We arrived in Ajaccio, the capital, and did a morning tour. A really lovely town – and given that this is the town Napoleon was born in, there are many things ‘Bonaparte’.
The house where Napoleon was born
And while all the windows here are typical in that they have shutters, they’re different than those I’ve seen in the Languedoc – the bottom half is hinged and opens outwards.
On the way out, we walked through the cemetery …….. a very strange place indeed. Tino Rossi – the famous Corsican singer, is buried here.
This looks like a small village street, but in fact these buildings are mausoleums and each one contains the coffins of members of one family. A little macabre but interesting.
In the afternoon, we drove up the west coast, a lunch stop at the Iles Sanguinaires – with a tower built on the point – one of 91 built around the coastline in the 1400s by the Genoese.
Friends Bonnie and Terry - from the village of Argel near Bize.
Patrick and Sandra
And then further north, through the area known as les Calanches de Piana ….. a most beautiful stretch of coastline of rugged red granite. It’s a bit tricky, as a lot of people (including all 95 of us!) get out of their vehicles and walk along stretches of the road, admiring the scenery down to the ocean and taking photos.

I was surprised to see so many eucalyptus trees growing all over the countryside. Lots have been used as street trees, and also in private gardens etc, but a lot had established in areas on the hills. It turns out the Corsica has had a bad problem with malaria in the past and part of the problem was draining wetland areas, and certain kinds of eucalyptus are very good at this.
In fact when we arrived for our overnight stop further up the coast at the town of Porto, I felt I could have been in Australia. The accommodation for the night was really good – not flash, but big spacious rooms and beautiful gum trees out the window, with mountains in the background ….. amazing.

The next day we headed west across the centre – through the stunning Parc Naturel Régional de Corse. This is not a trip for anyone with a fear of heights and narrow mountain roads. I have to say our bus driver did an amazing job – there was a fair bit of manoeuvring and backing up by us and oncoming traffic.
This really is a rugged place – there are lots of sanglier (wild pigs) here, although we didn’t see any. And the domestic pigs are allowed to run wild – and we saw lots of them. They forage in the forest and eat a lot of chestnuts, for which the island is famous. We had a dish of wild sanglier (a type of stew) for one of our lunches and I must say it was really delicious, but very strong and rich – a little went a long way.
The afternoon at the pretty coastal fishing village of Porto Vecchio and then to our accommodation – a little holiday village complex in the settlement of Favone. Basic, clean and all we needed for the four days. The organisation was great – the restaurant served very good food indeed, considering the numbers, and they had the timing down pat.
Given that there are 95 in the group (there were 32 last year when the group went to Austria – perhaps the word’s got around that it’s good fun!) – the outings have been staggered. i.e. each bus does a different thing than the other on a given day, although we all end up seeing the same things. While the restaurant at our 4-day stop accommodation was geared for that many, other smaller ones in the towns that we went to (all booked ahead and prepared) wouldn’t have been pushed to feed us all at once!

Another excursion was to the village of Sartene in the mountains – a stop on the way to see a huge chestnut tree that’s over a century old and still producing fruit –
And interesting bark of an old pine.....
And then onto the Aiguilles (needles) de Bevella – another beautiful chain of mountains.

Cows are also allowed to roam fairly freely in these parts – and the scene here looked a bit like a Milka chocolate ad ….
and then south to Bonifacio – which is described as ‘the jewel’ of Corsica. And it is a lovely place – there are many miles of dramatic chalky cliffs and the old town itself and the fort are built atop a rocky outcrop with amazing views.

We did a boat ride for an hour or so, far out enough that we could see Sardinia clearly in the distance, 12 kilometres away.

Heading out along the natural harbour – the Goulet de Bonifacio
And Elyette had saved from bread rolls from lunch – and Robert, our guide, ended up feeding them to the seagulls!
He’s a local Corsican who lives in the mountains - he’s a very funny man who spent a lot of time telling jokes, and he’s an excellent guide. I understand probably about 10% of the commentary, but sadly don’t get any of the jokes. But they tell me they’re all more than a little risqué – and judging by the applause, howls of laughter and tears streaming down people’s faces, it seems it is so.
A couple of photos of a little restaurant in the mountains on the side of the road where we stopped to take photos -

– we didn’t eat here, but I popped my head inside for a photo as Robert said this was a very traditional restaurant – producing all their own meats (hanging above the dining room).
I had a day off on Thursday – it was another long coach trip, this time to the north of the island to what the village of Calvi. The others said it was lovely, but a very long day. And as every day we’d spent long hours on the bus, I felt like a bit of quiet and solitude – a wander along the beach, a lovely salad for lunch in a restaurant and caught up on the next book-club book.
Our last day, north to Bastia where we were leaving on the ferry in the evening. But first, a drive around Cap Corse, the ‘jutting out bit at the top’. More dramatic scenery, stops at small villages –
and then back to Bastia for lunch. After lunch, a little entertainment from the waiter / pirate / traditional singer –

And then a last wander – Bastia is a lovely town with an old port and fishing harbour with mountains as a backdrop. Not surprising – given that the whole island is mountainous.
No matter that you’ve read exactly that – it isn’t until you’re there that you can comprehend what an amazing place this is.
And it seemed appropriate that we did the homeward-bound leg of the journey on something ‘Bonaparte’ ….

19 Jun 2008

Moving in Day

Since the move – I have been without technology…. no internet (France Telecom at its best) and no television (a problem with the builders not leaving access for satellite cables). This will all be fixed soon I hope, but it’s been a fortnight now, and I’m relying on friends to access the internet periodically (like now ….). So a short post this time – but I’ll post the big Corsican photo show when I’m connected again ….
The actual move itself however all went smoothly!
The troops arrived at four in the afternoon and commenced lifting heavy things…… Talk about efficiency – they were like whirling dirvishes. It was all I could do to keep up with the instructions of which things to pick up and what to leave in situ!
All this was followed by cold beers and drinks, and a barbie afterwards. Given the weather we’ve had lately [ i.e. crook!], we were really lucky that the day was gorgeous and it was lovely sitting outside in the evening.
The lead-up to moving day was me moving all the bits of smaller stuff across – the first time I’ve ever done a house move using shopping bags. Well, not the flimsy plastic variety, but the heavy-duty ones everyone here in France uses for their shopping. Amazing how much heavy stuff they can hold.
The only ‘blip’ of the evening was that I broke a tooth, on nothing less than a damned sausage. And it was the start of the meal, so I ate nothing more but drank lots (despite Caroline’s best advice!) because it hurt like hell. My first bit of tooth damage – guess it’s all downhill from here…..
And the day after? Well, even more stuff back and forwards from the house – full of pain killers - but now settled in nicely.
The dentist that was recommended to me could have fitted me in as an emergency treatment the following afternoon, but as I had two lots of tradesmen arriving, I had to forego that one and take the following day. All I can say is ‘ouch……’ And then the result of the visit? A temporary fix, and a root canal and crown on the 20th. If there’s an up-side to this, it’s that I have to be very thankful this didn’t happen while I was in Corsica!
Heartfelt thanks to everyone – Caroline, Trevor, Sandra, Patrick, Miki, Camilla, David, Margaret, David - who helped me do the big move to my new home.
The aftermath

3 Jun 2008

Aussie visitors and building update

A few photos of the finished off bits – I’ve painted the upstairs balcony, although I’m not sure I used the right product. But I have to say, this was actually a bit of painting that WAS satisfying – the oil and varnish going onto the raw timber and the difference it’s made. Very satisfying and it looks good.
The reverse cycle air-conditioning is up and running, so no more freezing in winter/sweltering in summer ….
The downstairs decking was finished just yesterday afternoon -

And I quickly put in a few plants to green things up in a hurry – just a couple of Morning Glory creepers that will give quick cover for the short term. I plan to put Wisterias up against the two veranda posts – but I’ve been told to only buy them in flower (which will now be next spring) otherwise you may have several years of a Wisteria plant before it will put out flowers.
Even a couple to go up the drainpipe ...
I had a visit from Wendy, Steve and Mike from Perth – who are staying in Villeneuve-Minervois north of Carcassonne for a couple of weeks but came to visit, have dinner with me and a sleep over! A good couple of days – we got out and about for a walk around the village (in the rain!) and the next day a few jobs got done – stars the lot of them.
Steve is a real handy man and must have been having DIY-withdrawals, because in no time at all, I had a small plastering job in the summer kitchen underway, a pine pallet broken up and sawed into lengths for my stove with a circular saw (I don’t feel safe using it – I think I’ll need to learn…), a bathroom fitting sorted, and a door that didn’t close now closes ….
And here they are working hard –
Wendy pulling nails!

Thanks everyone!
And then as a big treat (!), I took them to the wine cave in Ginestas. I convinced them that they needed to buy 5 litres of my favourite red to take back to Villeneuve with them.
Going in empty --
Coming out full – and looking even happier ....
We have had nearly a week of solid rain – with thunder storms waking me in the middle of the night. At 3am one night last week I stood at my bedroom window looking down at the road below which was running like a river.
And speaking of rivers, the River Cesse was running over the passerel (the footbridge that is the beginning of the pool used for swimming in the summer) and was as full as I’ve seen it. Normally the water is crystal clear but it was extremely brown and muddy from the run-off from the vineyards. Nearly back to normal now though.
I did take photos and a video of it, but seem to have accidentally deleted them – damn …..Given the rain pattern since I’ve been here i.e. lack of it! – I may have a long time to wait before I see it like that again.
Today, a quick trip to Narbonne to buy lots of BBQ stuff. Tomorrow is the big move into the barn. I’ve got a few people coming around to lift heavy things - with the promise of plenty of cold beer, wine and a BBQ to follow.
Oh, and I’ve found another interesting vegetable that I’m going to try this evening – another form of asparagus.
The name on the label is Ornithogale and here’s a description of it. Looks like it will be delicious!
On the way to Narbonne this morning, coming into Marcorignan, I passed a couple riding bikes – and noticed that behind one was a little trailer – with a dog in it! So, I crossed a bridge and waited for them, jumped out of the car and hailed them down. They must have thought I was mad – especially after hearing me speak my excruciating French. But as it turned out, they were British – so explaining that I would like to take a photo of them and the dog suddenly became a whole lot easier.
So this is Lewis – who is old and deaf – and now lives the life of Riley being towed around a beautiful part of France, getting out for the occasional stroll. If I were a dog, I would consider myself pretty lucky to lead this sort of life and have owners like this!

I will take photos of the big move tomorrow, but things are pretty hectic here, so I won’t be able to post them for a while. French Telecom arrives the following morning to move the phone and line from the main house, and unfortunately it seems that my internet connection will take another 10 days to change over. Doesn’t make sense to me, but there you are ……
However, I will be away for 7 of the 10 days – I’m heading off to Corsica for a week with the Troisieme Age group. We’ve been paying for this holiday in instalments for a year now, and finally it’s time to go.
So, two bus loads of us – only a handful of English speakers. The week has GOT to be good for my French. All the others are local people, mostly from Bize but also some from other nearby villages.
We head off to Marseille where we get an overnight ferry to Corsica and then 6 days travelling around the island. It’s meant to be very beautiful and I am looking forward to it.

Moving sideways

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